In the 1960s, a megabyte of data storage cost millions of dollars and required a massive box full of punched cards.
Now a single email can contain a megabyte of data and we don’t even think about the sliver of storage space it takes up in our inbox.
When storing information is easy, we can create and hold onto vast troves of data. You don’t need warehouses or extra annex space to house all your documents — you can access them from the phone in your pocket.
But it doesn’t matter what information you retain, if you can’t find it when you need it.
The sheer volume of information in your practice creates its problems. How can you sift through your mountain of documents to pull out that one crucial memo or relevant contract?
Even worse, what about the information that spreads across different apps, websites, and computers?
Your team needs technology that tames the chaos and helps you find exactly what you need, when you need it. Make sure to use software that allows you to follow these best practices:
5 ways to improve searchability in your legal document management software:
1. Unlock hidden content with Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
Many of the most common file formats lawyers use hide away information. When you scan in physical documents to your files or upload PDFs or photos, the words on those documents often can’t be searched. You have to know the file's name or where it sits in a folder to access the information.
That makes Optical Character Recognition (OCR) a crucial tool for lawyers. OCR indexes your documents and makes them legible to your computer, so you can find any term on the page when you search.
To unlock your hidden content, you can buy separate OCR tools or look for law firm document management software that automatically indexes everything you upload.
2. Create an extra layer of searchability with tags
To make sense of your documents, you probably store them within a hierarchy of nested folders. It’s how humans have organized information for centuries. But digital media is different from paper: it can layer on additional useful structures, without ever leaving its proper folder.
Some document management software for lawyers allows you to include tags and metadata in your software. For instance, if you’re writing a motion in limine, you might want to look at all the other similar motions in your case files. But you don’t want to go inside every client’s file and poke around to see if there’s a motion in limine. Instead, you could tag your motions as you go, so one search for the tag will bring up all the relevant documents.
You could also tag certain jurisdictions, case types, judges, or other characteristics to help you create better legal products moving forward.
3. Unify document structure with folder templates
Left to their own devices, everyone will organize documents differently. You want to make it as easy as possible for each team member to save or upload a document in the right place, so your document files remain legible.
Look for legal document software that lets you create folder templates, where each kind of case or matter you handle is assigned a specific arrangement of folders and subfolders. Each time a new project is created, it automatically comes with a tree of nested folders, helping each team member understand where to put specific documents so others can find them.
4. Loop emails into your legal document management software
It’s wonderful to have case files that are easy to search. But what about all the documents that never make it to your case files in the first place?
Despite its shortcomings, email remains one of lawyers' most popular communication tools.. Often that’s how you receive important messages and documents from your colleagues, clients, and opposing counsel.
But every email account is a lonely silo, separated from the rest of the legal team. Often it’s poorly organized and drowned in a sea of other messages.
Make sure your team can easily insert emails into your case files. If you expect everyone to print or manually upload each email, there will be large gaps in your archive, making it difficult to find what you need.
For Filevine users, take advantage of the Filevine Outlook Add-In or Gmail Add-On. These integrations allow you to quickly insert emails and attachments in the right project file without opening another tab or leaving your inbox.
5. Centralize all information inside one source of truth
Did you store that document in Dropbox? Google Docs? Or is it sitting on some computer’s harddrive?
We live during a great proliferation of repositories. Looking at our phones, over 200 billion apps are downloaded every year, a number that’s only expected to rise.
Each of these repositories has its own form of document storage and search capacity. And most of the time, each search must be done separately. If you don’t remember where a piece of information is located, you’re stuck cycling through your software until you happen to land on the right one.
That’s why many top law firms and legal teams are creating one central repository for all their documents, notes, messages, and client information. This can be done through law case management software that provides an end-to-end legal work platform, or through tools that integrate meaningfully with each other.
Take stock of the tools you use to manage projects, create calendars, and communicate internally and externally. Look for ways to integrate them, or replace them with a unified system.
As you advance your legal practice, you can’t afford to waste time hunting down a document or recreating something that has slipped from your grasp. You perform your best when your important information is available, understandable, and under your control.
Take advantage of the technologies that can clarify the chaos and make you the master of your own information. To learn more about how document management software can transform your practice, schedule a demo today.